So that’s all of that. Spoiler season is now over and people are going to get pretty busy with brewing, whether it is new decks or updating existing decks to fit the new Battle For Zendikar Standard format. It is a very very exciting time for sure, and I myself have a couple brews ready, though I think that they need a lot of work still. Either way, that’s all the fun is, and to wrap up the season, it is time to get to the final two days of BFZ spoilers.
This is going to be a bit of an odd post in comparison to the previous ones that I did since for those I had a fairly limited number of cards to go over. But this week, Wizards dumped roughly half the set, mostly the commons and uncommons, online at the same time, and so that’s a lot of cards to cover. I’ll be going over only those that I find interesting enough to rate a mention here. So let’s get to it.
The full cycle of full-art fetchlands for Zendikar Expeditions is now up, and I have to say that when you take them together, they look beautiful. We saw the Flooded Strand a while back already, so the only new ones are the first four here. If I open that Windswept Heath, it is going to be a real major decision on whether to part with it, since I’m a GW player at heart, and that full-art fetch just looks drop-dead gorgeous. The others aren’t so bad either, and Veronique Meignaud really must be complemented on the amazing compositions and the colour choices in the artwork.
Of these fetchlands from the original Zendikar, we’ve seen before the Arid Mesa and the Misty Rainforest already, so the Scalding Tarn, Marsh Flats and Verdant Catacombs full-arts for Zendikar Expeditions are new. And they all loo fantastic. The Scalding Tarn especially looks really creepy, and I love it for that. Of course, it also so happens that the Scalding Tarn will probably be the most expensive of this full-art cycle, given that the foil of the original is the most expensive, and how prevalent the URx combo is in Modern and other eternal formats. Again, a really great effort by artist Ryan Yee.
These are the remaining 5 shocklands from Zendikar Expeditions that we hadn’t see yet, and yeah, great stuff. Min Yum’s work here is absolutely fantastic, and I love the Breeding Pool and the Blood Crypt the most, though that Overgrown Tomb looks damn good too. The flavour feeling is in full-force for these lands, and I can’t wait to see how they all actually look!
On the face of it, this might not look all that exciting, but this is probably going to be a staple card for the UBx archetype for the new Standard. Sure, this card comes in relatively late, but once it is down, it offers a great aggressive and defensive body, and it also starts fueling your Eldrazi Processor shenanigans, not to mention milling your opponent every turn and netting you a ton of cards in the process. Plus, this completely hoses a player running fetches, because the Sire will give the controller two triggers, thus exiling four cards from the opponent’s library and netting the controller four cards. That’s brutal.
These are some of the creatures that we can look forward to on the common level for triggering Landfall. Workhorse creatures in Limited, though unlikely to do anything for Standard, even though you can get a 2-1 through the use of the Khans fetches to trigger these twice in a single turn.
More thopters for Standard! Though, the casting cost is restrictive, and the ETB effect isn’t all that great either. If this was for 2 mana, then we could have a discussion, but as it stands, this is just way too slow for anything.
This is so not the kind of Angel I wanted to see from this set. Angelic Captain is better than this in all sorts of ways, and as a friend said on Friday, this is more a Commander playable card than Standard. Not an early pick for Draft either, on account of this being both very expensive and slow. There’s kind of a weird interaction at work here as well, in that you could slam a Plains (like a basic Plains or a Canopy Vista) on the board, and then return a fetchland or a Canopy Vista to the battlefield to trigger a second Landfall. Jumping through a lot of hoops of course, but something that could work. Maybe. This is the Uncommon cycle for lands for this set, and it looks pretty decent actually. Blighted Cataract was spoiled earlier in the week, and we got the rest of the four lands on Friday itself. Of these, I like Blighted Steppe the most, mainly for white-based aggro decks, which fits my playstyle, especially since I’m working on some GW aggro builds for the new Standard. The others are all situational of course, and would be best in a Limited format, though not Standard playable as such.
We’ve seen various mana-ramp elements from the set already, the best of which are undoubtedly the Kozilek’s Channeler and the Beastcaller Expert. But these two, a creature and a spell, do interesting things as well. Unless I’m mistaken, the Brood Monitor gets you the best rate on Eldrazi Scions so far, and it splits up 6 power across four creatures, which is pretty good. We’ve already seen cards such as Ghirapur Gearcrafter and Whirler Rogue do some crazy things with the creature tokens they bring along on ETB. The Swell of Growth on the other hand does something different and for a pretty cheap cost too. You can definitely play it early for some big gains, and the “combo” with Fetchlands and the Tango/Battle Lands shouldn’t be scoffed at either.
I can’t really say about Standard since both of them seem a bit expensive and slow to me, but for Limited, these both look pretty good. The spell is going to at least give you two +1/+1 counters for a creature mid-combat, and the trample is a sweet bonus. We’ve seen a similar effect previously in Khans with Dragonscale Boon, which I think is a pretty decent Limited card. If you can make the mana work on 3 colours or even 4 for a Limited deck, then this is going to be great, though the restriction naturally is that we don’t have something like Mana Confluence to work with here, and the general mana-fixing isn’t so strong for the moment. But, still a good card, and a good pick for the middle period of a Draft. The Murasa Ranger also looks like an equivalent pick. The ability cost is slightly high especially since the creature itself costs 4 mana and there aren’t any relevant abilities like Trample or Vigilance or anything like that, but it offers a good enough body regardless.
Probably my favourite pump spell from the entire set. Unconditional pump with a significant Awaken ability. You can just use this to get a 6/6 haste creature as well, and that makes it a good card for Limited I think. It is good at all stages, and any manlands you can scram in are going to be that much more potent.
These are some of the new burn/damage effects to be found in Battle For Zendikar, and honestly, they all seem meh to me, either not doing enough, or costing too much for the same. Outnumber can easily do at least 2 damage in most red-based decks, and you could hit the dream sequence of having a bunch of goblin tokens down and dealing a ginormous amount of damage for just 1 mana. But that requires a lot of set-up, and is the same reason I don’t like Radiant Flames all that much. Processor Assault is probably the best effect that we have, and is relevant in that it is a card that can help you take down the big Eldrazi creatures who have toughness in the range of 6-11. Combine with combat damage, and you could take them down. Touch of the Void is basically an expensive Lightning Strike, and is not what I would want in a deck, especially for Standard where I already have Exquisite Firecraft. Tunneling Geopede is more a Limited card than a Standard one, because it just doesn’t do enough. Pinging your opponent for 1 damage a turn is just… unexciting. If it was 2 damage, then we could talk, and that would put the card in the Thunderbreak Regent category.
This one has a really neat effect with the second ability. Dedicated Eldrazi decks will definitely want this, and depending on how low-to-the-ground your deck is, this can do 2-3 damage in a single turn easily, and that’s before combat damage. Might not see much Standard play, but this should be a good card for Limited.
Oh look, more black removal. Demon’s Grasp is full-on a Limited Card, and even then it is stretching the limits of playability because of how expensive it is. Grip of Desolation however is really good because it lets you kill a creature and put the opponent behind on mana, which is a net positive board state for you. A bit expensive perhaps, but I can see it working in some Standard sideboards. A fringe card. The new Drown In Sorrow is interesting, and could see a fair amount of play in Standard, but again, it is just one turn too slow. The Awaken cost is also just one turn too slow, and that just might cause the card to lag behind. Drown In Sorrow was better in all respects, especially since the Awakened land is only going to be a 1/1 the turn you play Rising Miasma and thus you don’t get much of a benefit from it.
Moving into blue, we have some more counterspells and also some general card advantage tricks here. Dispel is, as always, a good cheap spell to counter any combat tricks and can be a good tempo advantage, especially in Draft. Spell Shrivel is a good early play that can help fuel your Eldrazi Processors without having to rely on your Ingest creatures. Rush of Ice is a cheap trick to push through some damage and lock out the opponent on that same turn. Halimar Tidecaller is a situational card in that it requires you to have some Awaken spells in the graveyard already, but that’s where Rush of Ice and others come in and it is essentially a free re-buy. The second ability is where the real trick is though, and it can boost your combat capabilities significantly by helping push through a lot of damage should you have a bunch of land creatures around. Ulamog’s Reclaimer does the same thing form a different angle, but offers a better defensive body as well, and is colorless, which helps against protection from blue effects.
Brilliant Spectrum has to be one of the most exciting blue spells from Battle For Zendikar. Being able to draw 2 cards here is ridiculously easy, whether in Standard or Limited, but the real test comes when you ramp up your Converge to three colours, such as for Esper Control, or perhaps some kind of weird 4-colour deck. Drawing three cards at 4 mana is a pretty good rate, even if you have to then discard two cards from hand. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy has already shown us how good 1-1 looting is in Standard, and the card has even shown up in Modern and Legacy. Now we have an “easy” 3-2 looting. I’m excited to see this on camera, to see how people leverage Converge. Anticipate on the other hand is a reprint from Dragons of Tarkir, where it showed up with art depicting a young Narset practicing the Ojutai brood martial arts. It did a lot of work in the early days of the Dragons of Tarkir Standard, but has since fallen off the radar. A reprinting here just might push things on the up and up.
White as a colour cares a lot about instant-speed tricks that boost combat math in your favour. This is all the more relevant here with all the pump and fog effects we are getting in Battle For Zendikar. With Gods Willing we are losing a big part of the white defensive strategy but are getting Lithomancer’s Focus instead. Combined with cheap creatures, this card can be a major turn for a player, ensuring that a blocker dies in combat, or even boosting damage to a player. Inspired Charge does a lot of work in boosting the defensive and aggressive power of a team of creatures throwing down against an opposing team. Combined with some sort of token strategies, this could work really well, though token generation in white isn’t where it is for red. Encircling Fissure is a great card, especially for Limited. It fogs your opponent and lets you get in some valuable damage at the same time, whether or not you leverage the Awaken ability there, which in itself is relatively cheap in comparison to many other Awaken spells, though of course the creature you get is a just a bear after all. Roil’s Retribution on the other hand is a straight-up removal spell. It doesn’t do a whole lot of damage and is also restrictive, but it answers a few things in the format, and is going to be good against Eldrazi Scions particularly, forcing the opponent to respond.
On the face of it, putting together these two cards would seem silly, but you can directly curve from United Front to Ondu Rising, netting yourself some number of Kor Ally tokens and a 4/4 haste creature all with Lifelink. And if you happen to have any allies on the field, then United Front is really good in that respect, giving you as many triggers as you can Converge colours to cast it. And the good thing about Ondu Rising is that it can get you out of a bad spot because of the lifelink on the elemental it gives you, and is not a spell to be scoffed at, especially in Limited, which often comes down to the wire.
This powerful trio rounds out the final of the Eldrazi revealed for Battle For Zendikar, though we will undoubtedly get a few more in the next set, Oath of the Gatewatch. Ulamog’s Despoiler is a huge blowout card. You only get a vanilla creature out of it after it ETBs, but that trigger in itself is very powerful. Getting a 9/9 for just 6 mana? That sounds like something quite a few decks would want. Perhaps even some non-Eldrazi decks. It can be a huge tempo swing because of the presence it has. Ruin Processor does something really neat, it puts you ahead on board by giving you a big aggressive/defensive body, and also gives you some lifegain, which can factor in very positively for some decks that care about lifegain. The Battle For Zendikar Limited Format is going to be driven by how fast beasts like these can be pumped out, and I have a feeling that Ruin Processor is always going to be making the cut, especially in dedicated decks. Bane of Bala Ged is a bit different. It hearkens back to the original Zendikar block because of its attack trigger, which brings back the Annihilator mechanic, sort of. Whereas the older mechanic sent permanents to the defending player’s graveyard, this one sends them to the exile, and helps fuel Eldrazi Processors. Ramping into that beast early is going to make your opponent have a really bad day, more so if you can put multiples on the board. That’d just be brutal.
These are the options we have for Allies in white for this set. Of these, the clear superior is Expedition Envoy because a 2/1 for 1 is great for aggressive decks, and I strongly suspect that the BFZ Limited format is going to be defined by early aggression, which is something that the Envoy does well at. You have the option of the Kitesail Scout of course, which has evasion in flying, but you can’t go wrong with this card at all. The two Kor creature cards offer decent bodies for what they do with Rally and they both offer different ways of winning through combat. Workhorse creatures for white-based Ally decks. The Serene Steward is certainly interesting in that it offers you two separate avenues of deckbuilding. One is a straight up Ally deck to trigger Rally, but on itself it is a bit slow. However, in a lifegain trigger deck such as the WB archetype for BFZ Limited, this could be very valuable. These are all good solid options for a Limited Deck I believe.
I mentioned the WB archetype for the new draft format above, and these are some of the cards that help sell that archetype. There is a clear lifegain trigger theme here, and building a WB Ally deck in Draft is definitely rewarding with all these creatures. You have pump-on-lifegain, you have evasion-on-lifegain, you can drain your opponent on Rally, and other things. The Malakir Familiar and Bloodbone Vampire should both be key to making this archetype work. There is also a strong sacrifice creature theme for black in the new format, and that should be interesting as well, because some of the cards with the effect also give you some amount of life, such as Vampiric Rites.
This is one of the weirdest cards in this set. You clearly don’t want to be sitting back with this creature, especially since it has flying, but the requisite combo of needing some kind of a pump spell to boost this makes it a tricky thing, especially Limited. The attack trigger is a decent one, and the flavour text is suitably evocative, but I’m just not sold on this as yet.
For anyone going down the RW allies route, you have some really strong options here. We’ve seen Munda, Ambush Leader and Angelic Captain and Resolute Blademaster before, all of which are pretty good, but these are the three cards that really reward you for building the RW archetype I feel. You have your pick of Menace, Haste, and Trample, each of which is great at offering aggressive finishes. Combine these creatures with some of the cheaper Allies like Expedition Envoy and Kor Bladewhirl, and you have a solid deck there. I love the concept of Allies, and I can’t wait to draft RW for this format, especially since I want to build a RW Allies deck for Standard.
The green options for Allies at the common and uncommon level aren’t really interesting. I suppose the Tajuru Beastmaster has some charm to it, but it is a finisher more like and the Converge on Tajuru Stalwart requires a lot of support. Not to mention that neither card is exciting as there are no secondary abilities to help push through damage. Combined with the lackluster options for GW Allies in Veteran Warleader and Grovetender Druids, it looks like the GW archetype is going to be mediocre at best. The Oran-Rief Invoker shares its ability with other cards in the set, and they are just as unexciting to me. They cost a lot and neither of them is good early. The Territorial Baloth is somewhat interesting, but not much. I’m rather disappointed with all the options here.
From a set like Battle For Zendikar, I would have expected a few more artifacts, especially equipments, given the whole adventuring and old civilization theme to the plane in general, but I suppose we have to be happy with what we get. Slab Hammer is somewhat weird. Bouncing lands you control isn’t all that interesting, and the way that the card trigger is worded, you can’t take advantage of the new Spelllands, which would have been pretty fantastic actually, in that you would be able to get more ETB triggers from them, especially the Looming Spires and Sandsteppe Bridge. Pathway Arrows is neat in that it can help your small creatures take the fight to the opponent’s face against opposing big creatures. It has Limited applications at best, but is a fairly reasonable answer if you lack any damage spells or exile effects. Hedron Blade on the other hand does a similar thing, but only against Eldrazi I’m afraid. It can even help your creatures take down the big Eldrazi sure to dominate the format and is good as a backup plan of sorts. Not an early pick by any means, but something to be definitely picked if it happens your way late.
And that’s all I have. I have covered most of the cards revealed during the last three weeks, and hopefully you have a good idea for which cards are good or not, irrespective of what my own opinion is of them. I haven’t done something like this before, and my experience isn’t all that diverse or top-level, but I hope that I’ve come across well enough in that I’m not a total idiot with my assessments. I could very well be wrong on some of these cards, though I hope that I’m not too wrong.
We shall see!
The Battle For Zendikar prerelease is in just six more days, a very exciting time to be sure, and I hope that you all have fun on those and that you pull some cool rares and mythics. Perhaps even one of those highly coveted Zendikar Expedition foils. Enjoy! My next post to do with the new set will probably be a decklist, for either Abzan Aggro or for RW Aggro. Keep an eye out for it!